Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honour is not seemly for a fool.XXVI.
(1) As rain in harvest.—This was very unusual in Palestine (comp. 1Samuel 12:17, sqq.), and of course very unsuitable for carrying on the work of harvest.
So honour is not seemly for a fool.—i.e., for a dull person, confident in his own wisdom (Proverbs 1:22). It only confirms him in his good opinion of himself, making him less inclined than ever to learn.
As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come.(2) As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying.—Rather, As the bird (any small one, especially the sparrow) is made for wandering, and the swallow for flying (where it pleases), so the curse causeless (i.e., spoken without reason) shall not come (reach its destination). The Hebrew reads in the margin “to him,” instead of “not,” in the sense that a causeless curse, though it passes out of sight like a bird in its flight, yet returns “to him” who uttered it—an idea expressed in more than one English proverb. (Comp. Psalm 109:17-18; Isaiah 55:11.)
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.(4) Answer not a fool.—Comp. Proverbs 1:22.
According to his folly.—Do not lower yourself by disputing or arguing with him; he will not take in your meaning, and will think he has got the better of you, perhaps will insult you. It is noticeable that our Lord never answered a question which should not have been asked Him, but always put it by (e.g., Matthew 21:23, sqq.; Luke 13:23-24; Luke 23:9; John 21:21-22; Acts 1:6, sqq.).
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.(5) Answer a fool according to his folly.—As his folly deserves, sharply and decisively, and in language suited to his comprehension.
He that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool cutteth off the feet, and drinketh damage.(6) Cutteth off the feet.—He wants his business done, but if he sends a fool to do it, he might as well cut off his messenger’s legs, for the business will not be transacted; nay, worse than this, he will “drink damage,” i.e., suffer positive mischief from the blundering of his emissary.
The legs of the lame are not equal: so is a parable in the mouth of fools.(7) The legs of the lame are not equal.—Better, perhaps. The legs hang down from a lame man, and so is a parable (useless) in the mouth of fools; they can make no more use of it for the guidance of themselves or others, than can a lame man use his legs. (Comp. Luke 8:10.)
As he that bindeth a stone in a sling, so is he that giveth honour to a fool.(8) As he that bindeth a stone in a sling . . .—i.e., the stone is soon gone from the sling and seen no more, so honour and a fool soon part company. This seems on the whole the most probable rendering of this verse.
As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a parable in the mouth of fools.(9) As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard.—Rather, (As) a thornbush (which) comes into the hand of a drunkard, so (is) a parable (which comes) into the mouth of fools. They know not how to use it, and only do themselves and others harm by it. (Comp. 2Peter 3:16.)
The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors.(10) The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors.—If this rendering of the passage could stand, Matthew 6:2 might be quoted in illustration of it. If fools and transgressors will set their mind upon “husks” (Luke 15:16) instead of the food God has provided for His children, He does not deny it to them; they have the reward they seek for. But the Hebrew can hardly yield this meaning. Of all the various renderings suggested, perhaps the most unobjectionable is as follows. A master (one skilled in his art), produces everything (by his own care and oversight he sees himself that it is properly done); but a fool hires (others to do his work), and he hires passers by., i.e., any casual person that comes in his way, whether skilled or not, and so the work is done badly.
As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.(11) So a fool returneth to his folly.—Though he knows it to be folly, and ruinous to him: but vice has become to him a second nature, and he cannot, even if he would, escape from it. This is especially true of those who have given way to drink or impurity of life.
Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.(12) Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit.—Comp. the warnings of Romans 12:16, and Revelation 3:17-18.
There is more hope of a fool than of him.—So the “publicans and harlots,” who had foolishly strayed from God, yet returned to Him at the preaching of the Saviour, while the Pharisees and lawyers “rejected the counsel of God against themselves” (Luke 7:30), thinking they had no need of it.
The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets.(13) The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way . . .—See above on Proverbs 22:13.
The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth.(15) The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom.—See above on Proverbs 19:24.
The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.(16) Seven men.—A round number. (Comp. Proverbs 26:25; Proverbs 6:31; Proverbs 24:16.)
That can render a reason—i.e., give a sensible judgment on any matter submitted to them.
He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.(17) Meddleth with strife.—Rather, that is excited with strife. If quarrelling and taking revenge on our own account are forbidden (Romans 12:18-19), how much more is the mixing up of ourselves in the disputes of other persons.
Like one that taketh a dog by the ears.—Who deserves to be bitten for his pains, the usual result of interfering in quarrels.
As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death,(18) Firebrands.—Arrows to which some blazing material was attached, in order that they might set on fire whatever they touched.
The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.(22) The words of a tale-bearer are as wounds.—See above on Proverbs 18:8.
Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross.(23) Burning lips—i.e., burning with love, while there is an evil heart within.
A potsherd covered with silver dross.—Pottery glazed with dross of silver, a well-known method of ornamentation. For similar proverbs, comp. Matthew 23:27; Luke 11:39.
When he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there are seven abominations in his heart.(25) Seven abominations.—See above on Proverbs 26:16, and comp. “seven spirits” (Matthew 12:45) and “seven devils” (Mark 16:9).
Whose hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness shall be shewed before the whole congregation.(26) Whose hatred is covered by deceit.—Rather, hatred may cover itself by deceit (but) his wickedness (i.e., of the hater, implied in “hatred”) will be displayed in the congregation, i.e., openly, when a suitable opportunity for indulging his hatred occurs.
Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.(27) Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein,—A simile taken from hunters making pits as traps for wild animals. The same doctrine of retribution being brought upon the sinner’s head by God the righteous Judge is taught in Psalm 7:11, sqq.
A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin.(28) A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it.—As the remembrance of them calls up his own wickedness to the mind of the offender. This is one reason why “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7), as being conscious of having rejected God’s love, and so hating to be reminded of Him.